Here’s our five takeaways from Wednesday’s 130-111 victory over Sacramento in the final game before the All-Star break, which the Mavericks reached with a 33-22 record.
Best things in life are free: Luka Doncic had taken some well-deserved grief for his free-throw shooting before suffering his ankle injury. While his season mark of 76.3 percent coming into Wednesday’s game wasn’t terrible, in the 10 games before his injury, he had shot just 63.3 percent from the stripe. That number does qualify as terrible for a point guard. So it was encouraging to see Doncic go 10-of-12 from the line against the Kings. “It was all mental,” Doncic said. “I can make free throws. I know that. It’s all mental. I just got to keep working every day on it.” That was one benefit of the two weeks he was sidelined by the ankle sprain. He couldn’t always run or jump, but practicing free throws was allowed and encouraged. What he did against the Kings was continue to get to the free-throw line, then cash in on the free points. That efficiency helped lead Doncic to 33 points to go with 12 rebounds and eight assists. Coach Rick Carlisle said the way Doncic kept teammates involved and made his free throws is “the sign of a great player. Going into the break and coming out, he needs to continue to be that guy.”
Rebounding rebounds: After a despicable showing on the glass against Utah on Monday (getting outrebounded 45-26), the Mavericks came back strong. They had a 47-40 advantage against the Kings and when you have two players (Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis) combining for 25 rebounds, it makes life a lot easier on everybody. It was the fourth time in the last six games that they’ve outrebounded the opponent by at least seven.
Pass-happy offense: The 34 assists they had was their second-highest total of the season. Only against Golden State in late December have they had a higher assist total (35). It was the sixth time they have had 30 or more helpers in a game this season and they are 5-1 in those games. “I loved the way we played from start to finish,” Carlisle said. “The ball moved beautifully. They changed their lineup at the last minute, so we changed our lineup. And it was really good that they went small because it forced us into an aggressive playmaking mode on offense and switching and communicating mode on defense. It really helped connect us tonight.” Four players – Doncic, Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Seth Curry – had five assists or more.
The big two: Doncic and Porzingis had perhaps their best game as a tandem. They combined for 60 points, 25 rebounds and 13 assists. They shot a combined 21-of-34 from the field. “We all had a little of that fire in our belly from the last game,” Porzingis said. “You could see a team that was (ticked) and wanted to play well and finish on a good note (before the break).” Playing angry clearly agrees with this team. They led virtually throughout and by as much as 25 points. They never had to sweat down the stretch.
Take a break: The All-Star break has finally arrived. For all of the players other than Doncic, it’s a weeklong pause between Wednesday’s game and next Wednesday’s scheduled practice in Dallas. Some are headed to Mexico to relax, some back to their home towns. J.J. Barea will be visiting family in Puerto Rico. This is an important recharge for everybody, because as Carlisle said, things will happen fast in the final 27 games when they return next week. “It’s going to be a great break,” he said. “It’ll be even greater because we won. The home stretch is going to be big for playoff positioning and all that. We haven’t made the playoffs yet.” But they have a nice cushion toward doing so (nine games in the loss column on ninth-place Portland). Their next game is Feb. 21 at Orlando.